This article was first published at The Stream.
Two words we love to say and hear after a busy day out of the house are “welcome home”! Home is where we return to relax, refresh, and rest. It’s the headquarters of our private sphere, a sanctuary made sacred by our most intimate relationships. It’s a safe place that shields us from the outside world, where we can let our guard down and practice being ourselves. And it’s where we can take time to reflect on the influx of information we experience every day at work, school, and in the public square.
Up until the early decades of the 20th century, most companies and institutions abided by the unwritten rule that the family home was a private domain that should not be intruded upon by the marketplace. But with the advent of new technologies like the telephone, radio, and television, that began to change. Fast forward to 2020. Not only have we let endless entertainment and advertising in through our TVs, we’re also giving technology companies intimate access to our home and family through a host of smart appliances, digital assistants, and screens. This infringement on our attention and refuge is affecting our relationships and our well-being. It’s one reason loneliness has reached epidemic levels recently and why suicide rates have risen by 30% over the last two decades. It’s time to reclaim our homes.
Here are five ways to keep your tech in check through the holidays and beyond and maximize your home’s potential to safeguard and nurture the life of your family.
Create an Unplug box.
A few years ago, my wife made a small rectangular wooden box and etched the word Unplug on it. It’s large enough to house two or three smartphones and a tablet. Make your own Unplug box or buy one that complements your décor. Once you have it, decide when to use it. We box our phones the first hour of each morning and the last few hours before bedtime. We also try to go a whole day each week, usually Sunday, without messing with phones or screens. We’ve found that physically distancing ourselves from our phones brings more clarity and commitment to our family time. It also frees up mental space to think of others around us, like starting a conversation with a neighbor. Use your box to enjoy more unplugged moments at home. Embrace the feeling of separation between you and your phone or tablet.
Ditch the Digital Assistants.
It’s easy to succumb to the lure of a digital assistant. Instant access to information, music, and other smart systems sounds pretty handy. But the long-term disadvantages of gadgets like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home far outweigh the short-term benefits. Take your family’s privacy. Digital assistants can collect a range of data from your home, including voice recordings of questions, time spent on devices, floorplans, user info, and more. Companies use this daily data to compile a record of your behavior at home so they can sell you more stuff directly or indirectly. No corporate entity deserves such a comprehensive window into your family’s personal life. And anything that connects to a network can also be hacked, which leads to its own kinds of havoc. Second, your family’s ability to learn is at stake. Robert A. Bjork, the director of the Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA, says learning needs to have difficulty to be effective. “The more students have to exert their mental muscles to learn a concept or recall an idea, the stronger their memory and learning will become.” Learning should be a journey that takes time and effort, not an instant information download. And what about motivation? The more a digital assistant is used, the more reliant on quick information access we become. Over time, this can lead to entitlement and intellectual laziness. Most of us want our kids to be lifelong learners. We can model that in the ways we choose to learn. Defend the privacy and wellbeing of your family by just saying no to digital assistants.
Dust off the old games (and buy a few new ones)!
As busy families, we can get into a routine that is hard to break out of sometimes. But making time and room at home for happy family moments is crucial. Turn the screens off and gather in the living room or at the family dining table and play a game together. It doesn’t really matter what game it is; it’s the coming together and the letting loose that counts. Little ones enjoy the thrills of games like Hi Ho! Cherry-o, Hungry Hippos, or Sorry! As they get older, they can roll with games like Scattergories, Chutes & Ladders, Yahtzee, and Charades. Then there’s the classics, like Risk, Monopoly, Life, Battleship, Scrabble, Guess Who? and more, to say nothing of domino and card games. Our family enjoys the Ticket to Ride series, the chaotic fun of Bounce-Off, and search-and-find games like Eye Found It. Game nights will strengthen your family’s bond and give ample opportunity for lasting memories to be made. And while everyone is having fun, important social skills are being practiced, like communication, teamwork, and good sportsmanship. Let’s face it – these are challenging times we are moving through. Family games give us a few moments to suspend reality and do something fun, just for fun.
Read together as a family.
Like flossing your teeth, reading aloud as a family is a pretty simple activity that comes with a lot of benefit. A school-time reader, says Jim Trelease, author of the bestselling guide The Read-Aloud Handbook, is one who reads well enough to graduate but stops reading once they leave school. A life-long reader, on the other hand, continues to read and educate themselves throughout life long after graduating. The difference is exposure. The more we read aloud to our kids, the more likely they will do it themselves when they grow up. They’ll also have a larger vocabulary, be more perceptive, and be more motivated to succeed in school. Read to your children before they’re even born and continue long after they can read for themselves. Read them stories written hundreds of years ago as well as newer offerings. Read them books of all kinds, from biographies of notable people to the amazing world of sharks, and everything in between. Vary up your family reading time by giving the kids a chance to read to you, reading silently with time afterward to share, or by assigning characters and following along together. Enjoy the delightfully analog experience of reading aloud as a family and watch your kids develop skills that will serve them well as adults.
Go retro to stay rooted.
One of the items visitors to our home tend to notice and comment about is the mustard-yellow touch-tone telephone in our living room, a modern throwback to a 1960s communication icon. They may also notice the old View-Master on the mantle containing a gallery of images from outer space, the Bluetooth-enabled turntable with old and new vinyl underneath it, or our facsimile copy of Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language on the shelf. Objects like these are a good way to kindle curiosity and serve as a healthy reminder that the latest isn’t always the greatest. While innovation certainly has its place, sometimes we just need to get back to the basics in life, and what better place to do that than in our home? Gather together your own selection of retro and antique tech and give your family the chance to appreciate the marvels of yesteryear. More possibilities include an apple press, an antique radio, a set of encyclopedias from the 1940s, a typewriter, an antique school desk, a pair of World War II binoculars, or perhaps a family heirloom that has been gathering dust in the attic. If the item can still be used, all the better! A thoughtful mix of old and new reflects not only the generations in your own family but also the history and culture of the nation at large, inspiring your family toward an exciting future while staying grounded by the lessons and gifts of the past.
Take charge of the tech you allow into your home. Implementing these five ideas will ensure that your living space remains a much-needed sanctuary for your loved ones.